Finding our place in God’s Kingdom
Imagine if you would that you were one of the disciples of Jesus. You have been able to follow and listen to the Son of God himself teaching you about life in the kingdom of God. You were learning that not everyone would find it easy to enter the kingdom of God but you must be one of the chosen for you are part of Jesus’ inner circle. You were called by name by this Jesus and you have even heard about things that the general public would not find out about until much later. You have hit the jackpot. You are getting in on the ground level of something that is going to be big. There are 12 of you in this group. If this Jesus is going to inherit a kingdom and sit on a throne in the kingdom of God, he will definitely need good people to sit on his right hand and his left hand – in other words, two people whom he can count on to be his most trusted companions. What an opportunity to suddenly be more than just simple fishermen with no real future.
But coming out and just asking for that would seem a little presumptuous so let’s try the old trick of not asking for what we want but asking for an open ended favour. Ever ask your parents or a friend to do for you whatever you ask them? It’s tempting because we can then be assured of getting the result we hope for. For James and John the result would be gaining the two most powerful positions in the kingdom of God next to Jesus himself. Of course they were smart enough to not make this request in earshot of the others; but obviously Jesus’ response was heard by the whole group.
But notice that Jesus does not directly reject their request; rather he responds by issuing them a challenge. “Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? Boldly they answer that both of these things are possible for them. Jesus knows that indeed they will drink the cup that he drinks and be baptized in the way that he will be baptized for he knows what their future will be as he knows what his future will be. No doubt they will be shocked when they learn that the cup they will asked to drink from will be the one that takes their life and that the baptism they will experience is one that will burn away anything and everything that will lead them away from their life in the kingdom of God but none of this will ever allow Jesus to grant them their deepest request – to sit at his right and left hand in heaven. Jesus tells them that those places are not his to grant.
For a moment think back to the transfiguration of Jesus as recorded in Mark 9. James and John are present with Peter at that event. There they witness the appearance of Moses and Elijah – two persons who figured prominently in the preservation of the faith and the renewal of faith among the people of God. In that record, they stand and talk with Jesus. Now think about this. What if it was not within the right of Jesus to grant the request of James and John because the places on either side of Jesus were already belonging to Moses and Elijah – two persons whose lives had a profound influence on the history of the people of God and for whom there was no known place of burial. Questions ever remain of what happened to them. One disappears into the mountains and the other is seen being swept up into the clouds. Are these the ones who will sit with the Son of God in heaven – one on the right and one on the left?
It is certainly something to consider and perhaps even offer as an answer to the request of James and John and even one that might have quelled some of the anger of the other disciples. But Jesus seems to ignore the whole issue and guides their thinking in a whole new direction.
The pattern of leadership which the disciples would have witnessed in the world around them was not much different from what we usually see in the world around us. Those who rule over us exercise power over our lives – perhaps not to the degree that other leaders in other parts of the world do but they still exercise power over our lives. In some places of the world that power is even tyrannical. Such leaders are considered great. They find themselves in positions of power and they know that their position makes them great in the eyes of the world.
But Jesus introduces to his disciples a different pattern for greatness. The disciples have been given a different pattern for leadership – a leader who serves. Greatness is to be measured not by power but by humility. One of the most difficult things to do is to be a humble leader. But a humble leader is not a doormat; a humble leader does not cave in the face of opposition; but a humble leader does not act out of a desire to be recognized or canonized; a humble leader leads out of compassion, a desire for truth and justice and out of a willingness to see others blessed and uplifted and protected.
The ultimate example of this form of leadership is found in Jesus himself who could have easily avoided confronting the religious authorities of the day and challenging their authority; he could have avoided running afoul of the government that ruled the country in that time; he could have avoided the humiliation of arrest; he could have avoided the pain of scourging; and he could have escaped a cruel death by crucifixion. But he chose to suffer all of it because he knew how critical it was for the word of God to impact the people of that time and how important it would be to all those who would come to believe in God both now and on into eternity in the kingdom.
Now it’s time to ask ourselves whether we could drink the drink that Jesus drank or be baptized with the baptism that he was baptized? The answer Jesus gave to them is the same one he gives to us - if we believe in him and follow him, it will be for us as it was for him.
But beyond this, there is the larger issue of the pattern of leadership that we exercise within our communities of faith. As leaders or potential leaders in our communities, are we seeking to be great and powerful people or are we seeking to serve out of a genuine compassion for others and a desire to honour God by seeking to direct our minds and bodies to follow the way and will of God.
We are certainly free to build our own kingdom but if the kingdom of God is what we believe in, then it is the example of leadership provided by Jesus that is to be our guide. And even if you are not an elder or a manager or a Sunday school teacher or other recognized position within this community, you can still be a leader to those around you by the way you live your faith, by the way you seek to follow the example of Jesus.
I know that I will not sit at the right or left hand of Jesus but I know that I will have a place in the kingdom of God if I seek to follow Jesus example and be as much of a servant as I can and so will you,